In honor of the 20th Yohrtzeit of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik OBM we present to you an excerpt of the forthcoming book “The Shadar,” which details some of the life and outreach efforts by the legendary Shliach.
by Dovid Zaklikowski
After the Rebbe’s passing in 5754 (1994), Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik would travel several times a year to visit the Rebbe’s resting place (Ohel) in the Old Montefiore Cemetery, in Queens, New York. The last time that Koppel Goldberg saw Rabbi Raichik was at the Rebbe’s Ohel. He asked Rabbi Raichik if he could help him carry his valise, but he dismissed the offer and began to ask Mr. Goldberg questions about his family and his business.
“He was extremely thin, dragging a little valise with great difficulty, yet he was only thinking of me,” Mr. Goldberg said.
Dr. Dauer recalled a similar episode. After Rabbi Raichik fractured his hip, he required surgery. Dr. Dauer was in the room when his patient woke up and asked how he was feeling. Rabbi Raichik turned to him and said, “More important, how are you?”
Toward the end of his life, Rabbi Raichik had to go to physical therapy. Naturally, every time he went, he helped the therapist put on tefillin. So painful was the therapy that he considered ending it, but he never did – because, as he said, if he stopped going, the therapist would no longer lay tefillin.
Until his very last days, when he heard that someone needed help, he tried to intervene. “The fact that his body was not working so well,” said Rabbi Schusterman, “did not stop him from caring and acting on the need to assist another.”
Among Rabbi Raichik’s later activities were raising money for a family with little income and collecting funds to build a mikvah for the Chabad House in Portland.
One Friday night, following davening, at a period when he was already suffering from Parkinson’s, Rabbi Raichik spent a long time in private conversation with a person in shul. Following the conversation, he left arm-in-arm with his son-in-law Avrohom Klyne.
Rabbi Raichik was in considerable pain and had a difficult time walking. Suddenly, after walking several blocks, he stopped and announced that he needed to go back to shul. Thinking that his father-in-law wanted to use the bathroom, Avrohom tried to convince him that the shul would now be locked and that they could stop at a friend’s house to use the facilities, but Rabbi Raichik was adamant.
Painstakingly, they retraced their steps. They knocked, and the man Rabbi Raichik had been speaking to opened the door. Rabbi Raichik sternly told him to go home and make Kiddush for his wife immediately, as she was surely waiting for him. Then he silently shuffled around, and headed for home again.
Aharon Grunfeld had a very close relationship with Rabbi Raichik from the time he was a child. “[He] was not merely a rabbi, but a life-long, caring and close family friend,” he said. “When something was happening with our family, he took it to heart as if it were his own family.”
When Mr. Grunfeld’s father passed away on Rosh Chodesh Elul 5740 (1980), Rabbi Raichik came to the hospital and told him that his father had wanted to be buried in Eretz Yisroel. “I was in shock over the loss of my father, and in that painful daze of losing a parent I could not decide where to start,” Mr. Grunfeld said. “There were no cell phones or internet. Communication was via landline only.”
Rabbi Raichik reassured him that he would take care of everything. He arranged the entire funeral in a few hours, including a plot in the section maintained by Chabad on Har Hazeisim in Yerushalayim. “He made sure every detail was handled without added complication or worry,” Mr. Grunfeld said.
When Mr. Grunfeld got married in Kislev 5758 (1997), he knew that Rabbi Raichik was very frail and did not expect him to come. He was very surprised when he entered the reception area, taking painful, halting steps with a walker.
Mr. Grunfeld said that as Rabbi Raichik slowly ascended the few stairs leading to the chupa to recite the sixth brachah, his face was beaming, “with a sparkling, energetic smile that all of the assembled guests, both Jews and non-Jews, found remarkable.”
Later on in the evening, he insisted on dancing with the groom. “It was clear to everyone that my simcha was his simcha,” Mr. Grunfeld said. Until today, he said, people ask him about “the saintly old rabbi who personified the presence of G-dliness.”
When it became difficult for Rabbi Raichik to maintain his regular Fairfax route putting tefillin on people, he asked his grandson Yosef Raichik to assist him, on condition that it would not take away from his studies.
Yosef began to accompany him daily on his route. “He would hold my arm, and we would walk slowly on Fairfax together,” he said. His grandfather’s determination to assist others with the mitzvah left a tremendous impression on him.
On Chanukah, several nights before he came down with his final illness, Rabbi Raichik asked his son-in-law Moshe Wilhelm to accompany him to the home of an elderly widow and help her light Chanukah candles. “She was so happy to see another human being,” Moshe recalled. Rabbi Raichik sat there listening to her talk about her difficulties and encouraging her. Only then did he return home to light his own menorah.
“A year later, on Chanukah,” Shimon recalled, “my mother asked me to go to that neighbor’s home. I lit Chanukah candles with her, and she told me how much it meant to her that Rabbi Raichik had come the year before. ‘He was frail, just two days before he went to the hospital,’ she told me. ‘Your father sat here and made sure I lit Chanukah candles.’”
On the 6th night of Chanukah, as he was preparing to go to an event at Chabad of Pasadena, Rabbi Raichik became ill and was admitted to the hospital for the last time. “As scores of people of different backgrounds began to come visit my father, we realized how great an impact he had on so many lives,” Devora said.
While the family was spending nights at the hospital, a young man they did not know began bringing them dinner every night. After a while, they asked him why he was doing it. The man told them that a number of years before, his family had been going through a very hard time. “I barely knew who your father even was,” he said. Yet Rabbi Raichik called this man’s wife before every Shabbos, no matter where he was, to ask how the family was doing.
During the last day of his life, when Rabbi Raichik was in the ICU at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, the family and close friends gathered at his bedside, singing Chabad niggunim. Suddenly, his heart rate, which had been stable until that point, became very irregular. He was physically reacting to the singing.
Dr. Dauer, looking at the monitor, said, “Medically, this does not make sense, yet with Rabbi Raichik, things are different.”
On the 8th of Shevat 5758 (February 4, 1998), Rabbi Raichik passed away.
“Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik, who served the Los Angeles Jewish community for five decades, died,” reported the Los Angeles Times on Feb 6, 1998. “After his escape from Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II, he was sent to Los Angeles as the personal emissary of the chief rabbi of the Lubavitch movement. In addition to his work in the Los Angeles area, particularly with the Chabad Lubavitch organization, Raichik traveled extensively to work with Jewish communities throughout the world. He and his wife, Leah, had 10 children, all of whom are leaders in Jewish communities around the globe.”
Rabbi Raichik was buried in the Old Montefiore Cemetery near the Ohel of the Rebbe Rayatz and the Rebbe.